In doing March Music Madness, our four contributing authors had to reflect on what important to them in their early high school years. We were unable to predict how many people would enjoy these polls. One of them decided he would publish his own list of songs that meant everything to him and we loved reading it so much, we asked if we could print it and he gladly agreed.
So, from special Fancy Boys contributor Bill Birdsell, these were the songs that made his freshman and sophomore years…
It was 1980 something. Fall of 1986 to Spring of 1988 to be exact. Ferris Bueller just narrowly escaped
taking a nasty spill down the stairs, subjecting himself to further school absences. Andie had chosen
Blane over Duckie. (Side note…I wish I could include the tracks on the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. It is one
of the best in my opinion. But released in early 1986. So, farts!) And Connor MacLeod battled the Kurgan
until only one head remained.
In music… MTV was still known for music videos; Hip-Hop was emerging; Heavy Metal was still going
strong; Pop icons were putting their best foot forward (or backward in the case of the Moonwalk);
Alternative/New Wave was (and still is IMO) on top; and Grunge was just starting to take shape in
releases by Sonic Youth and Pixies. We see the last of some of the best artists ever on this list. And we
see a few beginnings.
Honorable mention to those not making the list: Just about every track on The Joshua Tree – U2. Nearly
the same for Kick – INXS. “Can’t Hardly Wait” – The Replacements. “Faith” – George Michael. “Wild Wild
Life” – Talking Heads. “Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil. “Lips Like Sugar” – Echo and the Bunnymen.
“Stop Me if you Think You’ve Heard This One Before” & “Shoplifters of the World” – The Smiths. And
probably a few more, but I had to make the cut off somewhere. I also didn’t want to repeat an artist
Without further ado…Strangeways, Here We Come and there can be only one!
- “Where The Streets Have No Name”- U2: In full Beatles-esque roof top mode, this track from The Joshua Tree is the pinnacle of one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Plenty of people bag on U2 these days. But this was when they were kings and literally stopped traffic. Such a positive song! “I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside” “I want to feel sunlight on my face” An easy choice for top seed. Or is it?
2. “Welcome To The Jungle”- Guns N Roses: Say what you want about Axl Rose and the downfall of one of the most promising bands to come along at that time, but this song (and especially it’s intro) grab you by the collar and shake you until your head nearly comes off. What an auspicious debut. When you saw the pick, I’m sure you started wailing in your head like a siren (like I do). Just waiting for that building drum beat before all hell breaks loose. Cha!
3. “Girlfriend In A Coma”- The Smiths: Probably my favorite song on this list. Aside form The Beatles, The Smiths are my favorite band of all time. Sadly, “Stangeways, Here We Come” was released posthumously, after Johnny Marr had split from what was my favorite song-writing team since Lennon/McCartney. Marr/Morrissey crafted so many amazing songs, like this one. Wrestling with focusing on his love for her, and the times that were rough, Morrissey goes back and forth with his feelings throughout. “Let me whisper my last goodbyes….I know, it’s serious!”
4. “The One I Love”- R.E.M.: Talk about another great intro. The snare drop and guitar grab you right away on this classic from R.E.M. The godfathers of college radio, Michael Stipe has never been more powerful. Many could make a case for “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” on this list. But this song about the one he left behind is one of my favorite R.E.M. tracks of all time. And one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar.
5. “Never Tear Us Apart”- INXS: Ahhhh….another song of lost love. This one was THE song of one Homecoming dance in my formative years. Hoping to win a date with a girl that I was crushing hard on, I was the odd one out for a shot to dance with her to this. Hence, “I was standing…..you were there”. Sadly, two worlds did not collide. The strings on this are so haunting for me. “I told you, that we could fly. Cause we all have wings. But some of us don’t know why!”
6. “Just Like Heaven”- The Cure: The quintessential Cure song. Alternative pop at its best. The emo bands of the 90s looked to The Cure for inspiration, and “dreamed of all the different ways they had to make her glow”. Sensing a theme of unrequited love on my list “I found myself alone, alone, alone above a raging sea”, I must pivot.
7. “Where Is My Mind?”- The Pixies: Tapped to be the outro to the David Fincher masterpiece that is Fight Club (You met me at a very strange time in my life), and anchoring one of the greatest power alternative albums ever (Surfer Rosa), this Pixies classic is powerful enough to drop a building (wink). Cited as the blueprint for the future of Grunge, Surfer Rosa inspired Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan to create their respective sounds. Corgan is quoted as saying it’s the album that made me go “holy shit”. “Your head will collapse, if there’s nothing in it….and you’ll ask yourself, where is my mind?”
8. “Never Let Me Down Again”- Depeche Mode: Given new life by The Last of Us, this is Depeche Mode during the height of their career. It’s nice to see that they are still going touring and making music, but their heyday was in the mid to late 80s. Often debated as a) a song about drug use, or b) simply a song about the struggles between the 2 driving forces of Depeche Mode (Gore and Gahan), Never Let Me Down Again is a blueprint for power synth sounds to come from the Nine Inch Nails, Killers and Arcade Fire’s of the world.
9. “Smooth Criminal”- Michael Jackson: The King of Pop himself checks in. This was the gem of the Bad album for me. A case could be made for “Man in the Mirror” too. But the hypnotic rhythm of “Smooth Criminal” makes for one of the gloved-one’s best songs ever. Not too many songs of murder topping the pop charts in the history of music. Also inspiring one of the more decent covers in rock history by Alien Ant Farm in the 90s.
10. “Cult Of Personality”: Living Colour: Another song with a powerful intro. Living Colour’s debut album, Vivid, was on heavy rotation in my Walkman as I delivered newspapers in the spring of 1988. I would soon parlay my paper route money into my first car, where it was then featured on long drives to visit friends across northern Illinois. Rocking song, with a history lesson to boot. Likely an inspiration for one of my favorite 90s bands, Rage Against the Machine, Living Colour spoke of leaders speaking and dying for their cause in this song heard all over in 1988.
11. “Nothing But Flowers”- Talking Heads: Backed not only by the classic TH lineup, but also by Johnny Marr post The Smiths, and Kirsty MacColl (80s alternative “It” girl), this tongue-in-cheek song about a post-apocalyptic reset of the industrial world, gives a glimpse into the genius that is David Byrne. It’s not a power song, but a nuanced almost calypso vibe, about trying to get along in this new “natural” world. “And as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention.” “This was a Pizza Hut, now it’s all covered with daisies!?”
12. “Bring The Noise”- Public Enemy: Before there was Jay-Z, N.W.A, and Biggie…. Chuck D, Terminator X and Flavor Flav were spitting fire and spinning discs. They were telling America what it was like to be black in this country. Inspiring nearly all the Hip Hop that came after, Public Enemy were one of the first to rebel against racism and white privilege. They even bridged the gap between Hip Hop and Rock (much like Run DMC did with Aerosmith) and released another version of this track with Anthrax backing them. But I still like the original better.
13. “You Can Call Me Al”- Paul Simon: Backed by one of the more hilarious videos ever, “You Can Call Me Al” was the first single from one of the Top 50 Albums of All Time, Graceland. Much maligned because of his use of South African musicians throughout, Paul Simon left an unforgettable impression on music of the 80s. You can’t help boogie to this song and sing along, “He looks around around, he sees angels in the architecture spinning in infinity”
14. “Fight For Your Fight (To Party)”- Beastie Boys: I know…I know. This song is iconic. Why is it so low on the list? Well…..in the pantheon of amazingness that is Beastie Boys, this song is miniscule compared to everything else. Yes, it was their introduction to the world. But they really didn’t come out of their shells until they got away from Rick Rubin. I don’t doubt Rubin’s vision. He also helped Public Enemy, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, and many others reach new heights. But the sound he had in mind for Beastie Boys never captured their true essence.
15. “Here I Go Again”- Whitesnake: 80s Metal gods, Whitesnake, probably helped sell a lot of cars with the video for this song. (see Tawny Kitaen dancing on Jaguars…RIP). While some may put a track here from Def Leppard’s Hysteria album, I’ve always found that album to be over played and weak compared to the sound Whitesnake had in 1987. This song has some good staying power, being used in a Geico commercial a few years ago.
16. “I Against I”- Bad Brains: Talk about a Cinderella song to take down higher seeds, “I Against I” is power punk personified. An influential group for many (including other artists on this list….Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Living Colour I’m looking at you) Bad Brains was a high energy juggernaut. Probably my favorite song from them. I absolutely love the multiple tempo changes.
We thank Bill for his list and look forward to additional contributions from him…